Visit Siena in Tuscany, Italy one of three ways: On a budget, spending a bit more, or when the getaway calls for a splurge.
Trip tips: $1 USD = 1.22911 euro (8/19/12)
Use the prefix 39 (country code) + 0577 (city code) followed by the six-digit phone number when direct dialing.
Getting there: Round-trip rates to Florence, Italy (45 miles from Siena) with air partners Air France/Delta/KLM are $1,183.50 on departures through Oct. 31; Dec. 13-19 or Dec. 24-Jan. 1. Rates are 1,103.50 on Nov. 1-Dec. 12 or Jan. 5-March 20 departures. Rates are based on mid-week travel and advance purchase notice. From the airport, take a 20-minute ride on the Ataf-Sita bus (www.ataf.net) to the central rail station, Santa Maria Novella. One-way tickets of 4.50 euro can be purchased on board (service is every 30 minutes). SITA bus service to Siena takes riders into the city center. Trip duration is about 75 minutes; under 7 euro (www.sienaweb.it).
Stay: Agriturismo.net promotes Italian traditions and cultures by guiding travelers to explore regional product production and by encouraging off the beaten track accommodations. Savor Tuscany's soft landscapes with a stay at a charming farm and guest house located less than two miles from Siena's center. On-site is a swimming pool, bicycles, wood oven, barbecue and walking paths among olive trees and vineyards. House #2594 is 103 euro per night (minimum four nights) through October.
Eat: An osteria is a small and informal restaurant with basic meals at a decent price. Trattorias are often family run and offer a number of homemade specialties at slightly higher prices. Find Osteria Nonna Gina a short walk up from the Duomo and at the gates of Due Porti. This rustic dining room, with a few outdoor tables, serves authentic home-style dishes for about 12 euro; Pian dei Mantellini 2, 287-247, www.osterianonnagina.net.
Experience: Medieval and stunning Siena in Tuscany is laid out in seventeen wards, or contradas. The most renowned are the seventeen contrada of which are represented by the name of an animal or a symbol (giraffe, seashell, caterpillar) and each has its own fountain, church, motto and costume. With deep historic pride and patriotism, most contrada fiercely compete in two annual Palio horse racing events on July 2 and August 16. Ten Contrada's enter a bareback horse and rider (seven contrada alternate and three are chosen by lottery) for an exhilarating 90-second race on the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo - today the city's most popular gathering spot. Head up the bell tower facing the square, Torre del Mangia, for a full overview of Siena and the surrounding countryside (the hills of Chianti lie to the north). Don't miss a look inside the Romanesque-Gothic styled Cathedral of Siena, or Duomo di Siena for works of art by Donatello, Bernini and Michelangelo and its ornate mosaic floor depicting 56 biblical scenes laid during the 14th-16th centuries (revealed for a ten-week period, usually late August-October). Skip entry lines with a two-hour guided walking tour of the Old Town and Duomo; about $25; www.viator.com.
Stay: Just a few miles from Siena's city center is Il Castagno, an agriturism luxury property that produces fine wines and olive oils (complimentary tastings). Guest rooms are richly decorated with antiques and original paintings. Views from the swimming pool are classic Tuscan. Each Tuesday afternoon the home offers an authentic Tuscan cooking class, 25 euro per person. Horseback riding through hidden Siena hills can be arranged. Rates with buffet breakfast are from 250 euro per night; Strada Provinciale 102, 975-865, www.villailcastagno.it.
Eat: Just behind the Duomo is Antica Osteria da Divo with dining tables in the basement which were once Etruscan tombs and a main dining with ancient stone walls. Traditional Sienese dishes and pastas range from 8-12 euro for appetizers (antipasti); first course (primi) from 10-14 euro and entrees (secondi) from 18-22 euro; Via Franciosa 25, 286-054, www.osteriadadivo.it.
Experience: Less than an hour's drive northwest of Siena lies the medieval hill town of San Gimignano. The breathtaking approach reveals 14 fortified towers of the original 72 - each built higher than another by rivaling families during the 11th to the 13th centuries. Climb the tallest tower, Torre Grossa (177 ft.), dating from 1298 for stunning Tuscan views. Enjoy a brief visit through the two main squares and peek into the town's 11th century duomo and 13th century Sant'Agostino church for a fresco fix. Unique is the town's Museo della Tortura (Torture Museum) inside the Torre della Diavola; 8 euro. San Gimignano's claim to fame is saffron (try a saffron creme gelato) and its white wine, Vernaccia. Through October, take a guided tour to the vineyards and cellars of one local producer with guided wine tasting and a meal of bruschetta, pecorino cheese, Tuscan ham or salami; Tuesdays, Thursdays 5:00-7:00 p.m., 20 euro, including transportation from/to Piazza del Duomo, www.sangimignano.com. The town hosts two medieval festivals in September with music, dances and duels, archery and ladies and knights from the contradas; www.cavalieridisantafina.it.
Stay: Campo Regio Relais is in the city's historical center and a perfect based to explore the ancient buildings surrounding the main square and masterpiece museums. Take in views of some of the city's most famous buildings from the terrace or veranda of this luxury hotel. Guest rooms feature antique furniture and embroidered linens. Rates, inclusive of breakfast, range from 200-380 euro in August; 250-450 euro Sept.-Oct.; from 190-300 euro Nov.-Dec.; Via della Sapienza 25, 222-073, www.camporegio.com.
Eat: Patrons dine at Tre Cristi Enoteca Ristorante (The Three Christs) in a beautifully renovated 15th century palace (original frescoes and some of the wood paneling dates to year 920). A la carte menu items range from 30-40 euro, but three- to five-course tasting menus are offered (averaging 75 euro). Al fresco diners may have a glimpse of the dome of the beautiful Santa Maria di Provenzano church; Vicolo di Provenzano 1/7, 280-608, www.trecristi.com.
Experience: Explore the medieval twisty lanes of the steep village of Montepulciano, located 40 miles southeast of Siena. Inside the town's walls and fortifications (designed in 1511), the streets are lined with Renaissance-style buildings, churches (visit Antonio da Sangallo's San Biagio) and wine shops; www.montepulciano.net. The town is famous for traditional pici, a thick, hand rolled pasta and for the violet-scented Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, the locally grown ruby red wine and described in a 17th century poem, Bacchus in Tuscany, as "the king of all wines." A private full day trip from Siena with a driver/guide, two winery visits with wine and olive oil tastings, meeting with a wine grower who explains the techniques of viticulture and the wine making process, a walking tour of old Montepulciano and a traditional Tuscan lunch in a trattoria is 550 euro for two persons (decreasing to 125 euro each for up to 8 persons); www.italyandwine.net.
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